Airbnb Horror Story Part 2

Read Part 1 here. 

When I arrived at my condo I was tense. In one hand I had a package of brand new white plastic hangers. In the other hand I was clutching a two pack of pillows from Target. First things first, I knocked, just to be sure the guests were gone. They had been so adamant about not being there while I was addressing the myriad issues they had with the place. Issues that no other guest had ever complained about, of course. I unlocked the door and pushed it open with the tip of my toe, slowly. I was already planning my order of operations for getting out of there as quickly as possible. I would walk in, go straight to my walk-in closet and unlock it, grab new sheets and extra pillow cases for the new pillows, go quickly to the bedroom and hang up the new hangers (while leaving the packaging conspicuously in the trash can so they would know that I actually brought them BRAND NEW hangers), then change the sheets and get out of there. I was grateful at that moment that my additional set of sheets was a different color than the standard set. At least then they would know that I changed them without a doubt.

When the door finished swinging open, I couldn’t believe was I was seeing. I let out an audible gasp. There was…stuff. Everywhere. My condo looked like a Neiman Marcus got drunk with an Apple store and threw up all over the floor. After robbing a bank. There were high end leather handbags from Louis Vuitton and Chanel all over the floor along with unopened boxes of Apple products (iPads, iPhones, MacBooks), and even more disturbingly, cash. Lots of cash – everywhere. It was a minefield. I could barely see a visible path to the closet, let alone the bedroom.

What would you have done at this point? Turned right around and run away? Maybe. But I started explaining everything away to myself. Perhaps this is just how lazy, rich people are. Perhaps they maxed out their credit cards in my neighborhood (Likely this happens about every day in my neighborhood). Maybe they were in a rush to get out of here before I arrived. However, the cash strewn around absolutely baffled me. Even so, I rationalized everything, despite the feeling of dread in my stomach and overwhelming urge to puke. So I gingerly stepped inside and maneuvered my way around silk Theory blouses and sleek designer dresses. I was careful to not touch anything except the wood floors of my condo.

I added the extra pillows, changed the sheets, put the hangers in place, and got out of there as fast as I possibly could. I backtracked my way out without so much as nudging a single green bill on the floor. I didn’t want them to be able to accuse me of touching any of their stuff. I walked to my car and sat inside with the door locked to think about what had just happened.

The problem was, I didn’t know what had just happened. But it started to occur to me at that point that it probably wasn’t good. Or normal. Or the last issue I would have with these guests.

I messaged the guest through the app to let him know that I had completed his requests and that I was out of the condo (aka it’s safe to come back, weirdo!). He didn’t respond. I went back to my day and running my errands, all the while reminding myself constantly to calm down, try not to focus on his negativity, etc.

Just as I was starting to feel better, he started messaging me that I was keeping a cat in the condo (I do have a cat, as I mentioned before she would travel with me OF COURSE and not stay with any airbnb guests). He was making wild accusations – that I was keeping a cat locked in the closet (which is impossible because there is a huge gap between the closet door and the floor – probably a half a foot at least), that he thought he saw it, on and on. Honestly if he wanted to get into the closet he could have just pulled really hard. I locked it with the tiniest padlock that was more fit for a diary than even a school locker. The lock was there just as a message saying, “Hey, this is private space.” Not to actually deter anyone from entering, at least physically.

I attempted to calm him and reassure him that I do not keep my cat locked in the condo with no food or water with my airbnb guests. He would not be assuaged. I mentioned that perhaps we should bring airbnb support in to help us, since we seemed to be getting nowhere. That’s when the accusations really started to fly. He began messaging me the prices of the items I had seen on the floor – $4,000 handbags, priceless, actually because of their vintage status. I was in shock at this point. Was he setting me up? Then he started listing off items in my condo that he called “shit.” He said all of my belongings were shit, so he wouldn’t want any of them, but I sure would want his girlfriends’ things, wouldn’t I? I said I hadn’t touched any of their possessions. He sarcastically mentioned “Sure you didn’t.” And then went on to say that he wouldn’t want to damage any of my things or steal any of my things because it’s all “shit.” He accused me of wanting to go back and steal his girlfriends’ clothes, handbags, cash, and iPads. He said she was “terrified” i was going to steal her belongings.

This is the point at which I started crying, and I called airbnb support. They told me I was welcome to call the police if it would make me feel better (apparently that is their standard line, as I learned just recently when I had another extremely unpleasant airbnb incident). I told them my guest was being accusatory and completely unreasonable despite my continual efforts to meet his expectations. I asked them to please read the message log if they had access so that they could see exactly how polite I was to all of his wild accusations.

Meanwhile, my airbnb guest continued to harass me. At this point he said, “I’m a lawyer, and I can make this very bad for you.” His messages went on and on, and were each fairly lengthy. He seemed to be spending his entire trip determined to make my life miserable. I wondered – what did he want? To send me to jail? Insurance money for his stuff that I did not touch? To play Lawyer Power Trip? I didn’t understand, and I just wanted him and his girlfriend to leave.

I called airbnb in tears, and asked them to please help. They said they could cancel the reservation, but not much else. I said I didn’t want to message him anymore because he was being horrible, defamatory, and otherwise just plain rotten. I stopped responding to his messages at all, and ignored my airbnb app.

A few hours after he eventually supposedly left, I felt it was safe to sneak back to my condo and see what state he left it in. All of his things were gone, but he left me garbage in the middle of the floor and on the table tops. There was disgusting garbage from fast food which would have made me laugh under other circumstances, because…really? Fast food? But I wasn’t in a laughing mood at that point. I was just glad to have my condo back and glad he was (hopefully) out of my life. I found a few random things he had left behind, which I carefully documented and emailed information on to airbnb. They said I was free to reach out to him to arrange to mail them to him, which actually made me laugh out loud. I informed airbnb that under no circumstances was I going to be communicating with him again. I was happy to mail airbnb the items which they would be able to return to him. They said they could not do this, but they would let him know I found the items. (We’re talking a gross old t-shirt and a stray sock. But I wasn’t going to mess around.)

You might be wondering – what did airbnb do? Let me give you the short answer: absolutely nothing. What could they have done? Well, anything. They could have reached out to me to apologize, they could have let me know that they banned him from airbnb or at the very least closed that account. They could have sent me an email asking me if I was OK. A phone call? A letter? They could have done SOMETHING. But instead they had told me to call the police and essentially deal with it myself. I was left alone to see if these threats from my lawyer airbnb guest ever materialized. Amazing customer service, yep.

So as you can imagine, I cleaned up the trash as quickly as possible and disinfected my condo from top to bottom. It was hard to even sleep there for a few weeks. I felt violated by and disgusted by my fellow mankind. That was the most sad part of the entire event for me – I had grown to trust and appreciate that people in the world are generally good. That idea was shattered by this airbnb guest. I could not imagine having another guest. For me, airbnb was about sharing my life with someone while I wasn’t there – my most personal space, my entire home! And trusting that complete stranger to protect it and respect it as I do on a daily basis.

It took me months to sort this all out on my own. The most valuable thing I learned was to always trust my intuition. If I had only listened to the voice that told me he was a creep, then I never would have had to deal with any of this. It was difficult to face the idea that airbnb hasn’t brought together a community of 100% amazing people. I mean…imagine this, airbnb is based on a review system right? A lot like Amazon, except for people instead of products. However, I wasn’t even able to leave him a review. So no one will know this story is connected to his profile. Sad, right? How does that system work? It doesn’t; it’s broken. He can’t be run out of the proverbial town with the pitchfork. He never has to socially pay for what he did to me. He gets to remain unpunished, anonymous. Protected by airbnb. He’s able to go out and harass someone else just like he harassed me. How many people has he done that to by now?

If you’re an airbnb host, don’t make my mistake; always trust your intuition. If you’re anything like me you might feel a twinge of guilt for rejecting someone. But fight that feeling.

My Airbnb Horror Story Part 1

Back in 2011 I first listed my condo on Airbnb. At that point I’d owned the condo for a few months and had already completed months of DIY renovations, including my kitchen remodel. My condo was shaping up into a home – full of my possessions and personal touches. But the fact of the matter was that I now had to pay my mortgage and bills without a roommate and I was traveling most weekends to another city anyway. So I figured, why not rent my space on Airbnb? Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved to play “shop” and later on as a teenager (since 2003) I’ve sold the odd item on eBay here and there. Selling and sharing my space on Airbnb was another version of that wonderful network effect based sharing economy that embodied everything that I loved about eBay (so is Uber, for example – though I’ve never been an Uber driver) — bringing people together with a demand and a supply at an agreeable price that benefits both parties and leaves everyone happy.

I had a cute space in a great location that was sitting empty. So the reservations began to pour in. My first guest made an arrangement with me since I had no reviews. She needed to stay Friday through Sunday night, and my place wasn’t available on Sundays – so I told her I would have to enter the condo when I got home Sunday night and sleep on my own couch while she was in the bedroom. Totally weird, but somehow I didn’t feel concerned about it. She left behind a sock (accidentally) and a sweater (purposefully) that she thought I would like. I never actually saw her because she was asleep when I came in and still asleep when I left for work. The whole thing went off without a hitch.

After that I hosted more and more people, mostly couples on vacation or coming down to Atlanta to catch a Braves game. I had no issues. Though some requests were more strange than others. One woman was a therapist who needed an office for an afternoon, so she paid 1/2 the nightly rate to just use it for the date. Again, everything worked out fine. Another request came through from a woman who asked if her lighting guy and other crew members could sleep on my floor. I politely declined her request, even though I probably needn’t have, simply because I had this invented fear that my condo would end up featured in porn. Totally irrational, I know. Something about her request just made me feel weird. A few other requests here and there gave me the same fear, so I would politely decline when I felt like it, but mostly I hit accept and welcomed strangers into my personal space. Overall the experience of being an Airbnb host was rewarding and people often left me kind notes and gifts.

Eventually I stopped hosting for over a year because I was living in my condo full time and it was no longer available on the weekends. I always missed being a host though not having to clean was really nice. One day I realized I could easily start it back up again with the only added challenge of having a cat I would have to take with me each time. So I started packing her up in her travel bag and moving her (clean) kitty litter with me.

During Round 2 of my Airbnb host experience, I had my first cancellation. A Georgia Tech undergrad student rented the condo for his family visiting him briefly from China. They cancelled the reservation at 2am on their first night, so per Airbnb policy, I had to drive to my condo and make sure they had left the premises. I went to my door to find that the security chain was pulled shut and they didn’t speak a word of English. Convenient. Their son was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t understand why they were unhappy, but I imagine they were expecting a hotel, and likely their son hadn’t fully explained the concept of Airbnb to them. I gestured that they would have to leave because they cancelled the reservation. They were upset, but they packed their bags and left. That experience was not good, but I didn’t let it scare me away from hosting.

I hosted more guests here and there as the requests came in, and eventually I made my first big Airbnb mistake.

I failed to trust my intuition.

Remember the woman with the camera crew and the lighting guy? I didn’t want to host her. I felt bad, but I said no. And that was the right thing to do, because I trusted my intuition. Years of following that inner instinct had gotten me one cancellation and otherwise completely positive experiences. Not too shabby. But one slip, and it all fell apart. The years of trust in my fellow mankind that had built up and boosted my spirit – destroyed.

I got a request from a guy out of London. He was visiting the states with his girlfriend, and he was a lawyer. No huge red flags, but I got a weird feeling from him. I had some small, teensy tiny instinct that he was trouble. I’m not sure if it was the way he worded his request or the way he described his plans – but the bottom line was that he sounded odd. And high maintenance. I scolded myself for judging him. I accepted his request.

The day he arrived he immediately accused me of having too small of a hair dryer. I left my personal hair dryer as a courtesy – it wasn’t on my amenities list. Then he angrily said he would have to just go out and buy one. Next he said there were too few hangers. Really? After that it was too few pillows. Oh brother. This ain’t the Ritz, buddy. Next he said the sheets were dirty. (They weren’t.) But at that point I was frustrated so I told him I would go and buy him more pillows and more hangers and change the sheets. I asked him when he would like to meet me – when would be most convenient for him? I was doing all of this communicating through Airbnb’s app, so there would be a record of my extreme level of helpfulness. He responded that there was NO WAY he wanted to be there. He didn’t want to see me. He lost it at that point, and accused me of invading his space. I remained calm and told him to just let me know when I could stop by while he was out. That way I could take care of everything and let him know when I was done. He agreed and let me know a time. That’s when things got REALLY weird…

Come back soon for Part 2! :)

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DIY Wood & IKEA Dining Room Table for Less Than $80

I’ve been looking for a good table – less than 36″ wide – for my dining room for a few months now. I’ve spent some time online scouring local used furniture dealers’ instagram accounts and browsing ikea.com for potential solutions. I wasn’t satisfied with any because of the expense. Most of the tables were at least over $150 without chairs. And all of the used/mid century tables I saw online were over 36 inches and just too wide for the space. So, I did what any respectable DIYer does and I turned to pinterest/google. That’s when I saw a round-up of DIY projects by Wired that led me to the Creature Comforts blog.

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A helpful bug.

My favorite things about this project is that it isn’t very difficult, it is quite affordable, and it looks great. The project uses five main materials:

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The Ikea legs

  • Ikea LERBERG legs x 2 ($30 before tax)
  • Two types of wood (approximately $30 or less)
  • Wood screws ($2?)
  • Paste finishing wax ($10)
  • Wood stain in gray ($8)
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These ended up being my favorite screw to use for the project. I tried a bunch of different kinds that my stepdad left in my basement.

+ tools & rags of course. The project took me one weekend and a grand total of a few hours. I had Home Depot cut the wood which saved a lot of time. I think I stained the thing maybe FOUR times which seems excessive and probably is due to my not properly shaking the can of stain leading to a very watery first few coats. Whoops. This is a typical Lou error. I applied only one coat of the finishing wax. I still don’t really understand what the stuff does, but whatever. The most fun part was screwing the wood together. Because power tools.

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Power tools!

The least fun part was maybe trekking through Ikea finding the legs in the warehouse. Or the staining. Because of Lou Error.

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I still haven’t attached the top to the legs securely, but it does seem like something that should probably be done at some point. If you want to try this project yourself, check out the full DIY here! Let me know if you have any questions.

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The final product. No chairs :(

Presently I’m using a random metal stool and a desk chair from my stepdad (oh, and a stepladder) as dining chair furniture. So I guess some sort of chair or bench solution is next on the list.

Lessons Learned: My First Home, the Condo, Four Years Later

It’s been almost four years since I bought my first home – my little one bedroom, 650 square foot condo. I was speculating last night that by the time I’m 40 I bet I won’t even recognize the neighborhood that holds my condo’s building – the little Spanish Revival/Moorish architecture-inspired early 1920s beauty that I grew to love so much.

The neighborhood has transformed over the past years. I bought the condo at the bottom of the market – 2011 – and construction in Atlanta had halted. For years, and until mid-year 2014, skeletons of condominiums and shopping centers stood silently while billboards and banners advertising couture lifestyles and tall, thin women with perfectly coiffed hair flapped in the wind. Now I see those women in real-time as they walk down my street, sporting tiny dogs and sleek shopping bags from the designer stores that are now literally just down the way.

However, this shift makes me happy. I hate to see unfinished buildings (perhaps this could relate back to one of Gretchen Rubin’s key tendencies – I consider myself a “Finisher” rather than an “Opener.” i.e. Do you get more pleasure from using up a tube of toothpaste or opening a new one?) Seeing a new building finished with the workers and their mess cleared away gives me great satisfaction. Each new building opening its doors means a strong economy, hustle and bustle, money passing hands, the American Dream. Of course, I think it goes without saying that I wouldn’t be so thrilled by a greenspace being leveled in order to bring in a bright new building. I’m talking decrepit, empty, weed covered parking lots and derelict buildings being transformed into vibrant living and shopping spaces.

My time spent reminiscing stems from the fact that I’ve since moved away from my condo. The transition wasn’t too abrupt, since I started off renting it short-term on airbnb which placed me at the condo cleaning every couple of days and surrounded by my space mostly as I had left it – minus my clothes and some kitchen accessories. But my airbnb adventures are a story for another day (soon). Now I rent the condo mostly-furnished by the month on short-term leases. A few months ago I bought a house (also in Atlanta) about 15 minutes away. I’m in the middle of renovations (currently projects include: grout the kitchen backsplash, finishing grouting the bathroom floor, etc.) All of the projects I’ve been undertaking have made me reflect on my renovation choices that I made as a brand-new homeowner of my little condo so many years ago.

Even before I moved in, I had a good idea of what changes I wanted to make to the condo. I was nervous because I’d never done any home renovation projects in my life beyond painting a room and installing a closet clothes rod, but I was excited because for the first time it was my space 100% (not a rental, not my parent’s, not a dorm). My list was pretty ambitious, but looking back, I accomplished a lot. Here’s what I wanted to change:

Bedroom

  • Repair water damage to ceilings and walls
  • Paint
  • Hang curtains/rods
  • Hang a curtain to hide my bike
  • Install an overhead light and possible fan
  • Build under bed storage boxes

Closet/Hallway

  • Change out the closet light fixture
  • Replace hallway light fixture
  • Upgrade thermostat
  • Upgrade the washer/dryer
  • Paint

Bathroom

  • Replace medicine cabinet
  • Change out light fixture
  • Re-tile walls and floors
  • Replace tub/shower trim
  • Replace toilet
  • Replace sink
  • Install shelving
  • Hang curtain
  • Paint
  • Install an exhaust fan
  • Install molding

Living room

  • Paint
  • Hang curtains/rods
  • Hide speakerbox
  • Change door lock
  • Install an overhead light and possible fan

Kitchen

  • Replace countertops
  • Replace sink & faucet
  • Replace appliances (fridge, stove, dishwasher)
  • Install a garbage disposal
  • Install trim
  • Paint
  • Hang curtains/rods
  • Replace overhead light in galley part of kitchen
  • Replace chandelier in dining part of kitchen

Misc

  • Replace all windows
  • Refinish wood floors
  • Add more insulation to attic

So after going through this multi-year process of renovating my condo, what did I learn?

Upgrade Technology

If you haven’t already guessed – the bold items are those that I actually did complete. My favorite changes ended up being mostly related to technology upgrades – I LOVE my Schlage keyless entry deadbolt that allows me to keep one less key on my keyring, the thermostat upgrade from a mercury-based system made a huge difference I’m sure, and the windows that easily open and keep bugs out were a huge (and expensive) bonus.

Be True to the Spirit of the Space

I also learned a lot – besides the nitty gritty of how to cut butcher block countertops and make good use of plumber’s tape, I learned a lot about how to renovate older buildings. One of my original ideas was to install overhead lights and potentially fans (to keep the cooling bill down in humid Atlanta). Because who doesn’t have overhead lights in every room, right?? I thought their absence was so weird and quite annoying. But that’s how things were in the 1920s, for the most part. And I discovered it just wasn’t worth it. And I’m so glad I didn’t do it. Because it would have been A. expensive and B. not true to the spirit of the building at all. I ended up using a combination of table and floor lamp light, and it worked very well for me.

Well-Executed Short-Term Hacks can turn into Long-Term Solutions

A few of the items surprised me by how inexpensive they ended up being. I earmarked a few hundred dollars for a new kitchen light, but the sheer ugliness of the existing light fixture bothered me so much that I rigged up a $20 Target drum shade to cover the fixture until I found a more permanent (& no doubt expensive) solution. Guess what’s hanging in my dining room today, and currently being enjoyed (I hope) by my renter? The $20 lamp shade. And it looks pretty darn good.

Stay in Paint Families

Another obvious “lesson learned” relates to paint. I ended up painting the kitchen and bedroom twice. I painted the living room gray which ended up looking totally purple, and I actually CRIED. I painted the closet a really gross shade of peach that I’ve never changed because – IT’S A CLOSET. It’s always been full of stuff since nearly move-in day 1. Never to be painted again. Now my painting philosophy is to have either the same or at least the same family (or color card) of paint throughout the house. With special exceptions for “jewel box” rooms (I have a friend who painted her bathroom Barbie pink. It sort of works because of the jewel box effect. Sort of.). This eliminates complexity and decision making. My favorite restaurant (at present) is a vegetarian Indian restaurant that doesn’t have a menu. The server brings you a tray of food and a pitcher of ice water. No decision making. That’s my favorite type of experience. But really – you don’t have to paint every room a different color! This concept absolutely blew my mind.

Live with the Space First

What else? I also learned to live with the space before making certain upgrades. All my appliances ended up being pretty darn good. Sure, they aren’t stainless, but they’re cute and they WORK. And they fit in the small spaces. It’s close to impossible to find an apartment size fridge or washing machine that doesn’t cost an inordinate amount because they’re specialty items. There is an exception to the “live with the space first” rule – if you don’t get your wood floors done before you move in, you’ll never get them refinished. Just sayin. Sometimes they will end up being too thin to refinish and they’ll have to be replaced – but that’s worth checking out BEFORE you buy the home.

I loved my home because it was functional and a reflection of my lifestyle and design choices. I allowed it to evolve over time and I didn’t make furniture purchases or design decisions all at once or right away. I’ve grown a lot because I’ve gotten much better at making key decisions. I no longer waffle for weeks or months (now we’re talking hours or days). I know what I like, but going through that process with my first home was key in getting to where I am now. I trust myself. I hope my lessons learned will help you get to that place too. Just allow yourself to make mistakes (and cry if you have to). But don’t beat yourself up and be proud of what you’ve done.

Guilty about First World Guilt

This is in response to a friend’s (and mentor, and teacher) post on First World Guilt. Over the past few years she has given away her possessions, sold her house, and traveled the country in her car. She’s about to serve in the Peace Corps. You might find my response a little strange because I sought to overcome my guilt for my lack of First World Guilt.

When I was younger I used to be active on a number of message boards frequented by teenage girls across the United States. Generally these were daughters from middle class families – with time, computers, an internet connection in the late nineties/early 2000s. Some guardian most likely had to purchase the computer too, so that means they had some sort of responsible supervision. In other words, they lived in the lap of first world luxury. I remember a particular post that blew up on the forums. A girl had posted a pathetic plea for help, she was tired and sad and lonely. But she had everything, she said – a beautiful home, loving parents, plenty of food, wonderful friends. Yet she was depressed. She felt guilty for feeling depressed in spite of all of the things she had. I found myself disgusted with her. I hated her. How dare she be sad. How dare she! I distinctly remember my indignation rising in the back of my throat as I considered her spoiled, sick, little existence. And while part of me still wants to roll my eyes a little when I think back on her forum post, I’ve altered the way I consider other people’s experience in this world.

What I’ve come to realize – what has developed as my understanding of the world – is that measuring life satisfaction across cultures and time and miles cannot be done through measurement of money and possessions. The woman down the hall from me that doesn’t have to work and whose parents paid for her fancy college degree could want to die right now. She could have driven out to the forest, to a national park. She might be sitting in her car with a handgun on the seat next to her. Maybe she’s dying of cancer and her life is one painful event after another punctuated by brief segments of relief through use of pain pills. Or maybe it’s that her boyfriend of just a few months has unceremoniously dumped her. Whatever the reason, her pain is real. No matter what caused it or what will solve it. For now or forever. If I can accept that without judgment and without comparing her life to my life or to the life of a hungry child across the world, I think that is the best way to consider it. That’s how I want to consider that woman’s life – what it means to her. Her collection of experiences that have brought her to this very real place of sadness.

So that’s why I don’t have First World Guilt. Because my world might be First, but that doesn’t mean anything except that I’ve more opportunities available to me within a framework that is inherently First World. I can still say No to them, I can still give up and go lay in bed and never go to work again. I can do that and I can find out what happens when I make that choice.

I can learn about other cultures and languages and feelings and people and hope to understand on some level…understand their experiences and choices and day-to-day existence. The lady down the hall. The kid in another country who speaks another language and wouldn’t recognize any of my most familiar customs or possessions.

I can reach out to other people and hope that they will consider my experiences for what they mean to me, and give me enough credit to accept that my feelings are real to me.

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